What Are “Services”

There is a lot of discussion on the Internet about how “services” are essential to tech companies.

Ben Bajarin recently raised the point that even though Google is using their services as a weapon to fend off the proliferation of AOSP (Android Open Source Project) devices, Google’s services are actually only relevant in markets like the US and UK, but much less so in other regions.

What you see with regard to the Google Play services availability is the biggest issue facing Google. It is one that is forcing, in a good way, local companies in those regions to create and bring to market services of their own to support their region. China is the best example of this do date. Granted China’s Android ecosystem is a bit messy with over 100 different app stores but the region is quickly fixing these issues and consolidating.

The fact that Android is being used as an open source platform is not necessarily a bad thing for Google. What is challenging is that they are not making the impact with their services the way they need to be in many of these regions. Their competition in this case is not from the likes of Apple or Microsoft necessarily but from savvy startups looking to solve a problem in their region and doing it better than Google can thus keeping Google out of regions they may wish to compete.

I totally agree with Ben’s argument, but I would also suggest that what we are simply calling “services” should be broken down into certain sub-categories. For example, looking at the Wikipedia table on Google Play availability, we see that “paid apps and games” are available in the majority of countries, whereas books, movies and music are not. Compared to the same chart for Apple’s iTunes store,, Google Play is extremely lacking in books, movies and music but not very different in apps. This suggests that digital distribution of apps is a very different business compared to that of books, movies and music.

The reason why there is a large difference is rather obvious. In the case of apps, Apple and Google are the gatekeepers. They do not have to negotiate with the content owners over whether they can distribute the content in a certain country and at what prices. They make the decisions or the developers make the decision when they submit the app.

For books, movies and music, the rights to distribute content are much more complicated. The content owners have much stronger bargaining power and they often have different agreements in each country. Each country may have their own distributor network which may have exclusive rights for distributing content in that country. Furthermore these distributors might have plans for their own digital distribution which would compete with what Google and Apple are planning to offer.

Hence the difference between Apple and Google Play is most likely the difference in negotiating power, skill and previous relationships with the content owners. Essentially, it boils down to the ability to make deals.

With this in mind, I propose that we break down “services” into the following;

  1. self-owned services: These are the services where the provider has ownership of the content. Examples are search, social network services and web-based services (Google Apps, etc.).
  2. self-controlled services: These are the services where the provider can distribute without negotiating with a strong content owner. The prime example is apps. App vendors are generally quite small and have little bargaining power relative to the service provider.
  3. third-party owned services: These are the services where you are selling content that is owned by a third-party, and that third-party has strong negotiating power over distribution (unlike in the case of apps). Examples are music, books, movies, etc. Distribution of this content was historically done physically through retail networks and this resulted in complex networks and agreements, which are often different in each country. Also this content tends to be much more expensive to create than “self-owned service” content, thus requiring large companies to fund production. These large companies obviously have strong negotiating power.

When we map companies like Google, Apple, Amazon, Twitter, Facebook, Spotify, and Pandora to these categories, we find that no company is strong in all three. Twitter and Facebook are exclusively in the “self-owned services”. Amazon, Spotify and Pandora are exclusively in the “third-party owned services”. Google is mostly in the “self-owned services” and to some extent in the “self-controlled services”. They are however very weak in “third-party owned services”. Apple is strong in “third-partly owned services” and strong in “self-controlled services”. They are however weak in “self-owned services”.

From an international perspective, “self-owned services” and “self-controlled services” are relatively easy for the service provider to provide in many different countries. However, “third-party owned services” are very difficult. Amazon for example has very limited international reach. The fact that Apple has in fact been able to provide their services in a large number of countries is very much the exception.

These three categories will probably have very different dynamics and I sense that it will be very difficult for any single company to excel in all of them. At least that seems to be the case so far.

Google Plus is an SEO Tool

There was a good article on the New York Times about Google’s spooky social network, Google Plus.

Some quotes from the article;

Thanks to Plus, Google knows about people’s friendships on Gmail, the places they go on maps and how they spend their time on the more than two million websites in Google’s ad network. And it is gathering this information even though relatively few people use Plus as their social network. Plus has 29 million unique monthly users on its website and 41 million on smartphones, with some users overlapping, compared with Facebook’s 128 million users on its website and 108 million on phones, according to Nielsen.

Starbucks, for instance, has three million followers on Plus, meager compared with its 36 million “likes” on Facebook. Yet it updates its Google Plus page for the sake of good search placement, and takes advice from Google representatives on how to optimize Plus content for the search engine.

“When we think about posting on Google Plus, we think about how does it relate to our search efforts,” said Alex Wheeler, vice president of global digital marketing at Starbucks.

“You might not need jQuery”

I stumbled on the You Might Not Need jQuery website, and I think that it’s a fantastic idea.

What it does is that it compares code written using jQuery, and code written in plain Javascript. If you develop mainly in jQuery, this helps you to write the same code in plain Javascript. On the other hand, if you are like me and don’t like jQuery for any reason, then it’s a good resource to learn from other people’s code.

It also links to some good libraries that can be used independently of jQuery.

Personally, I find using jQuery quite annoying for the following reasons.

  1. It can noticeably slow down page loading, especially on mobile. It even slows down PCs with Core i5 processors by 100ms.
  2. The jQuery website boasts that it’s only 32kB minified and gzipped, and they call it lightweight. On the contrary, the Ponzu system that I’m developing, which uses Javascript for AJAX, hashtag-based navigation, localStorage-based page caching, JSON-driven HTML templates and more, is less than 20kB total (minified and gzipped). It’s hard to justify 32kB when the vast majority of code is not going to be used.
  3. There are often too many functions doing similar things (and I’m saying this coming from Ruby, which also has a lot of redundant functions). Event handling is especially an area that put me off.

In Ponzu, we use jQuery only if the client is Internet Explorer. We have a small number of shims that use jQuery as a compatibility layer.

How Many Companies Use Lotus Notes

In understanding the process of innovation and technology diffusion, it is important to analyze how long it takes for an outdated and unpopular technology to actually be eradicated from the market.

That is why I am interested in knowing how many companies use Lotus Notes there days.

I’m having difficulty finding credible information, but what I’ll find, I’ll post here.

From the salesforce.com blog;

Well, the reality is that Notes penetrated companies pretty darn well back in the 90’s (like a Nirvana song permeated the radio waves), and the departmental applications sprouted and filled all the holes that IT often couldn’t get to. Love it or hate it, Notes became a mainstay platform of the enterprise. In a recent survey we did of our Dreamforce 2012 attendees, we found that 73% did indeed still use Lotus Notes. And that 70.3% were considering replacing Lotus Notes, the majority within the year.

From an old source but which mentions that companies might not be using Lotus Notes for Email, but for other stuff, which would make a market share comparison rather difficult;

Jim goes on to explain, that by a wide definition of “use Lotus Notes and Domino software” even Microsoft would be a Notes customer.

How Are iPads Actually Being Used in the Enterprise?

There is a lot of discussion on how tablets (iPads) are replacing PCs. I have been generally skeptical of this view based on tablet usage data (1, 2).

The discussion for tablets replacing PCs is generally based on the decline of PC sales coinciding with the rise in tablet sales. This is true. However, there is little discussion on cause and effect. It is totally possible that these sales trends are not strongly related; they may simply have happened at the same time by coincidence.

Also, there are many tech bloggers and analysts who claim that they have managed to get by on their iPads alone, and only using their PCs very rarely. Or some people will claim that their parents have simple needs which are completely covered by an iPad. I have no reason to doubt these arguments, but on the other hand, I have very little reason to believe that the majority of users, especially in corporations, would feel and act the same way.

What is sorely missing in the vast majority of discussions, is how corporations are actually deploying iPad. Things like to following;

  1. How many people in the organization are getting iPads?
  2. What are iPads being used for by which people?
  3. Do the people who use iPads stop using their PCs?
  4. How do the iPads integrate with the preexisting corporate IT setup?

We can only reach a good idea of the potential market size of corporate tablets if we carefully analyze these points.

A few days ago, an article was published on ITMedia (a Japanese IT publication) that described how and why a large company introduced iPads into their IT infrastructure. I thought that it was very insightful and I have listed some points below. It tells us what iPads are good for, and importantly, why they limited distribution to only their managers and executives.

  1. The company is Mizkan, a food company that has been around for 210 years (a history almost as long as that of the United States of America). This company has 2,900 employees and a revenue of 170 billion yen (~1.7 billion USD).
  2. They have been using IBM Lotus Notes/Domino within their IT infrastructure since 1996.
  3. One main function of the Notes system was workflow management. Since their business involves products that can directly damage customer’s health, accountability is key. They need to have a strict approval process.
  4. The managers who are responsible for the approvals are often on the road, who are often not able to frequently open their laptops. This led to delays in the approval workflow.
  5. They installed “Lotus Notes Traveller” into iPads together with some custom applications designed to work together with Notes. These iPads were handed out to the managers and executives who were responsible for approvals.
  6. As a result, they were able to significantly reduce the time to get approvals from all concerned executives and managers.
  7. Some executives have expressed that they don’t take their PCs around anymore and that the iPad is sufficient when on the road or at home.
  8. Importantly, Mizkan has no plans to introduce iPads to their lower-level office workers. This is because whereas executives rarely have to prepare documents themselves, normal employees have many jobs which use keyboards extensively. Mizkan predicts that normal employees will not be able to complete their tasks on tablets alone.

My takeaway from this article is the following;

  1. Corporate IT has many more functions that email, document/file sharing and project management. There functions are already provided by legacy solutions.
  2. The new generation devices (smartphones and tablets) are not going to replace corporate IT infrastructure overnight. Instead, they have to integrate with the current systems. This means integration with Lotus Notes, Microsoft Exchange and all the other solutions that corporate IT have accumulated.
  3. The majority of workers in the office are going to stick to PCs. Hence PCs will most likely remain in the center.

Will tablets never replace PCs? I don’t necessarily think so. I think they eventually will. But I think it is increasingly important to reflect on Steve Jobs’ own words as he introduced the iPad;

  1. Better at browsing the web than a laptop.
  2. Better at Email.
  3. Better at enjoying and sharing photographs.
  4. Better at watching videos.
  5. Better at enjoying your music collection.
  6. Better at playing games.
  7. Better at reading eBooks.

If there is going to be a third category of device, it gonna have to better at these kinds of tasks than a laptop or a smartphone. Otherwise, it has no reason for being.

Extending Steve’s discussion, if the iPad is going to replace the PC, it’s gonna have to better than a laptop at current corporate IT tasks.

That’s a pretty tall order.